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“I want to start a movement to move away from the outdated colonial idea of ‘charitable giving’ to underdeveloped nations”

Lessons In Leadership With David Menning of SmartBuyGlasses


I want to start a movement to move away from the outdated colonial idea of ‘charitable giving’ to underdeveloped nations, and instead for industries to start seriously investing in these countries in order to start developing their economies. What this means in our industry, glasses, is for us to develop inexpensive glasses distribution methods, where glasses are made accessible at very little prices $2–5 with a strong commission / motivational structure for village entrepreneurs associated with the distribution. If we are able to provide a good income to people who are able to make glasses accessible in the developing world, and if we can expand these networks and the associated glasses accessibility, a greater number of people in the developing world will be able to improve their livelihoods by being able to see.

I had the pleasure of interviewing David Menning. David is the co-founder and co-CEO of SmartBuyGlasses, one of the world’s leading online retailers of designer glasses. Built from the ground up, SmartBuyGlasses started as a fundamental belief that everyone should be able to access the best in designer eyewear, for the best prices. After more than 10 years in business, SmartBuyGlasses has managed to make this belief a reality with websites in 30 countries in 15 languages.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in Sydney Australia, and had the great fortune to be able study abroad in Canada, Sweden, and Japan when I was completing my postgraduate degrees. Living in these other countries allowed me to see how culture and business operated in different cultures, and enabled me to identify a gap in the market for ‘designer glasses’. Luckily I met with Tony and Doron whilst I was studying, who also shared the same vision so we set up the company and the rest is history.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

I was working out of our offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai for 6+ years. Whilst I was thoroughly enjoying Asia it was challenge managing our European websites with European team members from these offices in Asia. In 2015 we decided to open an office in Europe and after much investigation we chose to open an office in Torino, Italy. It is still a shock for me when I pinch myself on a daily basis, realising that I now live in Italy running this global optical business from here.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we built our first website we didn’t really know anything about websites or programming but we chose to have the website built in India. The first website was quite a simple website for one domain. There were lots of challenges to simply getting the website up and running. A few months into our business life, over a Chinese New Year period our website went down and it took us a day or so to get it up and running again. It was quite terrifying for that day until we had it up again. Fortunately we learn’t a great deal through the process and these learnings have been fundamental to our success today.


What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The most unique thing about our company is that we were among the first in the industry to go into designer eyewear e-retail. This means we have the most experience in the sector, and understand the highs and the lows of the industry because we have been through them. We also have a global approach with websites in most countries around the world in 15 languages. We service these websites with an international multi lingual team, something we are proud of which we believe makes us stand out. It allows us to approach problems from different angles and to understand our customers’ needs and requirements from across the globe.

Due to our impressive supply chain being able to buy eyeglasses and sunglasses directly from the manufacturers in Europe, USA and Asia, this also allows us to access the largest possible range of products globally, 80,000+ unique frames. Quite often customers come to us looking to replace a specific colour or model that they can’t find anywhere else. We are proud to be the global go-to-destination where at final resort, a customer can definitely find the model that they love that they may be specifically looking for.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Life is a balance. Spending time with friends and family, or pursuing other goals, will actually stimulate your mind in different ways. This will have a positive knock on effect on your business because it will allow you to keep thinking outside the box and to avoid tunnel vision, which can often limit creativity.

Obviously you should do what you love, so your business should be your passion, but make sure you make space in your life for other passions too. Don’t become 2 dimensional.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Vision impairment and access to glasses is one of the largest health problems globally. We are proud of our philanthropic work with our buy one give one program active on our website. For every pair of glasses sold we donate a pair of glasses to a person in need. We have to date donated $2.3 Million USD worth of glasses to people in need. It’s very important for us that we contribute to the greater communities within which we operate. As such, we are always on the look out for partnerships where we can help out. If we can find local optical charity partners that can help us with local eye tests for people in need then we can continue to grow and strengthen our charitable contributions in these areas.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Short cuts make long delays” — J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s relevant because sometimes, especially when you’re starting out with a business you are so excited you want to get everything done and just jump straight to the juicy part. However, you really need to make sure that everything is well thought out and processes are clearly aligned before you start, otherwise you will cost yourself time and money at a later date. If something is broken in the business, the customer will feel it, and that’s not a good way to run a business. Take your time to get it right the first time. Reputation is precious. It takes a long time to build and a second to destroy.


Do you see any exciting developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

In terms of eyewear, the industry is currently going through some exciting changes that are worth everyone keeping an eye on. The era of the indie designers and manufacturers is upon us; where companies are moving away from mass production and into specialisation of certain niche craftsmanship or design. It’s an exciting moment for the industry because it is producing some of the most creative eyewear we’ve seen for a while, and giving an opportunity to many young designers to really cut their teeth and change the direction of eyewear design.

Digital innovations like online eye tests are also looking likely to shake up the industry as traditional optometrist eye tests are replaced with digital online eye tests. With the emergence of these selling aids, glasses will become an ever more accessible fashionable item rather than being seen only as an expensive optical aid.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry? Please share a story or example for each.

Tenacity: One needs a persistent determination, a will to succeed and a steadfastness to push through the challenging cycles of business.

Passion: If one is passionate and enjoys doing what one loves, then the work is more enjoyable than not. We encourage our team members to be passionate about everything they do.

Open minded-ness: One needs to be open minded to different methods or ways of doing things. Working with a team means working with different team members who have different perspectives. Its important that everyone is aligned which requires people to be open minded to things.

Timeliness: Business, trends, fashion, seasons. These things move fast. Only those willing to satisfy the time requirements of their product or service will survive in the end.

Collaborative: Its only through working with team members that one is able to achieve big things. Learning to collaborate, to work with others and make those relationships really bear fruit, that’s the only way to really achieve big things in this day and age.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

To move away from the outdated colonial idea of ‘charitable giving’ to underdeveloped nations, and instead for industries to start seriously investing in these countries in order to start developing their economies. What this means in our industry, glasses, is for us to develop inexpensive glasses distribution methods, where glasses are made accessible at very little prices $2–5 with a strong commission / motivational structure for village entrepreneurs associated with the distribution.

If we are able to provide a good income to people who are able to make glasses accessible in the developing world, and if we can expand these networks and the associated glasses accessibility, a greater number of people in the developing world will be able to improve their livelihoods by being able to see.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

SmartBuyGlasses is present on various social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumbler, and Google+. On top of that we also have our own blog called ‘EyeStyle — Fashion Trends by SmartBuyGlasses’. Follow us and you’ll always stay up to date on the newest eyewear trends and styles.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Originally published at medium.com

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